FDA hails ‘Tumor Monorail’ that coaxes aggressive tumors away from the brain

Imagine a tool which could trick aggressive brain tumors into exiting the brain and migrating into an external container like a medical version of the ghost trap from Ghostbusters. Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine it at all — since the so-called “Tumor Monorail” is a very real, potentially game-changing invention. And it just got the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Breakthrough Device” designation to prove it.

Developed by researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University, the device resembles a catheter tube which reaches into the skull, with the other end leading to a reservoir that could contain tumor-killing drugs. The smart part is that it is able to mimic the physical properties of the brain’s white matter to fool brain tumors into spreading through it, as opposed to through real brain tissue.

While it doesn’t destroy the existing tumor in the brain, the device could help slow down its spread. The results could make brain tumors more of a manageable condition. The device may prove particularly helpful in situations in which tumors are considered inoperable either due to their placement or the condition of the patient.

“This was the first demonstration that you can engineer migration inside the body and move a tumor from point A to point B by design,” said Ravi Bellamkonda, formerly of Georgia Tech and now at Duke University, said in a statement. “It was also the first demonstration of bringing the tumor to your drug rather than your drug going into the brain and killing valuable cells.”

The project has been in development since 2014. A prototype device has been shown capable of slowing the spread of tumors, along with shrinking them by upward of 90 percent. This result, which was demonstrated in rats, has been reproduced multiple times in the lab. The team is now scaling up and redesigning the device so that it can be used for humans.

To be clear, the FDA “Breakthrough Device” designation doesn’t mean FDA clearance or approval. Instead, it shows that this is a device that the FDA sees massive amounts of potential for. With the help of that ringing endorsement, the researchers are now gearing up to begin work on their next proof-of-concept study. Their goal is to achieve FDA approval for human trials by the end of this year.

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